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“How do confessional Lutherans differ from others regarding Baptism?”


Pastors Answer Frequently-Asked Questions

Some of the differences in the ways that Christian churches conduct Baptisms are merely matters of custom and logistics. Other differences surrounding Baptism are significant matters of “what does the Lord say?” and are, therefore, stones in the foundation of sound biblical teaching.

Any conversation about Baptism will benefit from starting with one central question: “Is Baptism an act of a believer directed heavenward, or is it an act of God with blessings flowing to the sinner?” The scriptural answer is the latter, but let’s consider the question more closely.

If Baptism is something that a believer does to declare his conviction of faith, then it is an expression of blessings already received and not a means whereby one receives blessings. If this is the understanding of Baptism, then it is logical that someone would not be baptized until he is old enough to understand Scripture and to personally declare his faith. Almost all non-Lutheran Protestants view Baptism in this way—as an act on the part of the believer declaring his faith and commitment.

If, on the other hand, Baptism is something that God does, if its purpose is something God effects, and it is a heaven-to-earth action instead of earth-to-heaven, then its use will be something quite different. Then Baptism and its blessings aren’t curtailed by the recipient’s ability to declare his faith. Then it’s not a rite of passage or a mere human custom, but rather has the full power of God and His blessing and His command.

Jesus commanded His disciples to “make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19a)  Next, Jesus explained how to accomplish this mission: “baptizing . . . teaching.” (Matthew 28:19b-20) Baptism has the power to “make disciples”—to bring someone to faith. That is a heaven-sent blessing, not an earthbound ritual or tradition.

On Pentecost, after the Law in Peter’s sermon had convicted the hearts of those listening, they asked, “‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.’” (Acts 2:37-38) “Be baptized . . . for the remission of sins.” Again, this can be no earthly confession or declaration of man. Even Jesus’ enemies pointed out that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7).

Peter draws a correlation between the waters of the Flood and the waters of Baptism when he writes, “There is also an antitype which now saves us—Baptism.” (1 Peter 3:21). Peter’s words could not be more clear: Baptism saves! Sinful man cannot save himself, so if Baptism saves, God must be at work through it.

In these passages and others like them, God clearly declares that Baptism forgives sins—all sins!—and therefore gives and seals salvation to those “who believe and are baptized.” (Mark 16:16)

When we consider the blessings that God says come through Baptism, there is no doubt or uncertainty that Baptism is a heaven-sent blessing. God is the One Who is at work as He showers the gifts of His grace upon the one who is baptized.

With the foundational question answered, many of the other questions surrounding Baptism are framed with a scriptural understanding and can be answered and addressed.

If you have more questions about Baptism, or if you’d like guidance in becoming more fully equipped to speak to others about a scriptural understanding of Baptism, talk to your pastor. He will count it a blessing to study God’s Word with you.

Wayne Eichstadt is pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley, Washington.